|L'ora dello Spritz...Aperol o Campari?|
Dorosoduro’s Campo Santa Margherita is the spot to be on a warm, starlit pre-summer evening in Venice; and last night the hustle and bustle of people filling the popular meeting place showed no exception to that rule.
In and around Venice, a before dinner get together is known as l’ora dello Spritz or Spritz Hour—the local equivalent of Happy Hour. Lifting a glass—complete only if topped off with a large green olive or an orange twist and often both—has become a ritual which is as much a part of Venetian life as sipping a morning cappuccino at the corner bar or stopping in at the local bakery before noon to make sure you get your pick of the day’s freshly baked bread.
Last night I shared my spritz experience with a wonderful group of American expats who—if I quickly pull together an average—have each lived in Venice for more than a decade. After two hours of political chatter—yes we do still care about what happens in our homeland— and thirst quenching that left our brains stimulated and the bottoms of our drinking tumblers red or orange depending on the choice of Campari or Aperol, we left the bar’s jasmine scented garden, shook each other’s hands, double-cheek kissed and shouted Italian and English salutations into the cool night air. Some headed home, one went to the gym, and a smaller group of us answered the not-so-quiet rumble in our stomachs by strolling into the heart of the campo and occupying a table in one of the half-a-dozen al fresco dining trattorie that frame the area.
We were cordially greeted by the restaurant staff, ordered our meal and continued a more intimate conversation about our lives, hobbies and professions making the pleasant discovery that our small dinner group consisted of a combination of wonderful teachers and writers. Before long we were once again sipping drinks, cutting into artichoke and cheese pizza and satisfying our taste buds with the respectable Italian version of an American Club Sandwich.
Rarely at a loss for words, I did my share of talking, yet what I enjoyed most of all was listening to my new friends. I sat back to contemplate the unrelated events that had touched each of our lives and had brought us to Venice; I liked the idea that these same circumstances were giving us the opprotunity to forge new friendships which otherwise might have been missed had life placed us elsewhere.
The evening rushed ahead and our thoughts turned to trains to catch, early morning appointments, and my husband who was waiting for me in St. Mark’s square after a long day at work. The conto came and as we all reached for our wallets the joy that had wrapped its arms around our lovely evening vanished. We were given a swift shove back to the unpleasant side of reality when one of our friends discovered that while we were enjoying each other’s company, someone else had unzipped her purse, reached inside and stolen her wallet; apparently it was one of the two men who had been seated at the table behind us, and had opened and closed their menus only to quickly leave without ordering.
I’d like to believe that these things can’t happen in this beautiful city; but they do. The genuine sense of security and ownership that one quickly feels when in Venice can betray the visitor as well as the resident. The feeling of being part of a neighborhood is exactly what makes it easy for the work of pick-pockets to go unnoticed. My comments are not meant to frighten or criticize, but instead are meant to remind all that in the majority of touristic cities in Italy and around the world this is not only the high tourist season but also the time of year when pick-pockets do their best business. On the street, in crowds, on the vaporetti and especially while seated in cafés, restaurants and bars keep your purse zipped and in front of you or your wallet and cash in your front pocket. You’ll keep the bad guys a little more honest, and save yourself from remembering a lovely evening in a beautiful campo as an unpleasant experience.